Former state representative David Vitter was elected to succeed Republican Rep. Bob Livingston in Congress today, winning a close election over former governor Dave Treen.

With all precincts reporting, unofficial returns showed Vitter with 51 percent to Treen's 49 percent.

The two solidly conservative Republican lawyers, both veteran politicians, struggled to point out their differences after they were the top finishers in a field of nine in a May 1 primary.

Perennial candidate and ex-Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke finished third in that race and said he would vote for Treen.

Treen lost despite endorsements from Livingston, Gov. Mike Foster and several other politicians. Vitter shrugged off the endorsements from "the powers that be."

"They may have been the past, but we are the future," Vitter said to wild cheers from his supporters.

Treen ran as a well-connected insider with built-in seniority and valuable contacts owing to the seven years he served in Congress before being elected governor in 1979.

Vitter, 38, hoped to use youth to his advantage, saying the 70-year-old Treen's influence would be diminished because of his age.

Influence was the issue because Livingston, in a 20-year congressional career, proved adept at steering federal money to the home district, snagging federal funds for flood control projects and defense contracts for shipyards.

Livingston was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and in line to be speaker last year when he learned, as members moved toward impeaching President Clinton, that news of his past marital infidelities was about to break. He confessed and resigned, urging Clinton to follow suit.

The runoff campaign was interrupted in its final week when Treen's 20-year-old grandson disappeared during a hike in the Oregon wilderness. He was found safe on Wednesday.

On the issues, Vitter denounced all forms of gun control. Treen said he defends the right to bear arms but is not opposed to some restrictions on more sophisticated weapons automatic or semiautomatic weapons. And he said gun dealers at gun shows should be subjected to the same background check requirements as regular gun retailers.

Both said they opposed affirmative action but Treen also said he was against the federal government keeping colleges and universities from deciding their own racial admission policies.